As a template for establishing a new business, Abigail Forsyth’s example isn’t one you’d find in a text book.
“It was a leap into the unknown without much thought,” she laughs.
Abigail thought she was on nice, safe pathway of being a corporate lawyer when she decided to join her brother, Jamie, who had “lots of ideas” about business. Together, they opened up a café and catering business known as Bluebag which eventually expanded into six businesses around Melbourne, all operated by the pair.
It was while working in the business, dealing with 200kg of chicken a day and delivering catering orders, that both Abigail and Jamie realised that the quantity of packaging used in the food industry was enormous and wasteful.
“We decided we wanted to find a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly means of packaging and serving food ‘to go’,” she says.
The duo had not advanced their thoughts much more by the time Abigail took time out for the birth of her first child in 2005, but it was while she had this parenting break that she thought about how to deal with Australian office workers favourite morning obsession – coffee.
“I looked around at the reuseable cups on the market and realised they were not very impressive, so we decided to design and manufacture our own.
“I wanted something that was cool, fun, environmentally sustainable. We did some research and we realised that if we could come up with the right idea we’d actually be solving a problem that a lot of people were talking about.
“No-one particularly likes throwing away their coffee cup every morning but there wasn’t a good enough reason to have a reuseable one. People told us through the conversations we had and research we conducted, that they wanted to ‘feel good and do good’.”
With the help of grants from the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government, and pre-sales from NAB and Energy Australia, Abigail and Jamie were emboldened take their ideas from the drawing board to production. The first KeepCup was sold just over four years ago and is now an Australian export success story with offices in London and Los Angeles and a staff of 20.
KeepCup is also an Australian manufacturing success story. The product is made locally and is shipped to distribution hubs at the rate of 100,000 at a time.
“People think of Italy when they think of coffee but around the world, Australia is seen as one of the leaders in coffee style worldwide. Coffee culture is changing in the UK and Europe – and it’s changing to be more like Australia,” Abigail says.
“The same is true with KeepCup. We’re changing take-away culture so people want a reusable option.”
Abigail says a KeepCup consumer is called a ‘reuser’.
The Australian-conceived, designed and made KeepCup is now keeping drinks warm in 32 countries including Australia, the UK, New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, parts of Asia and Europe. Abigail has also been commended in several globally renowned award in London, Melbourne and Hamburg.
There are 500 billion disposable cups in the world and about 1 million are disposed of every minute. Of the 3 million people who already use a KeepCup, Abigail estimates that approximately 3.5 billion disposable cups have been saved from landfill.
“This equates to removing over 4,000 tonnes of disposable cups from the waste stream and saving enough energy to power 5,000 homes for a year, and leave 50,000 trees still standing in a forest.”
Does she hope for world domination?
Abigail laughs. “Of course, it would be great for business! But it would also have a real impact environmentally,” she says. “We think of ourselves as a campaign supported by a product, where the best reusable is the one you use. Ours just happens to be pretty awesome.”
Abigail is now mum to three and has the capacity to work from home with the help of “great nannies”.
Even so, like all working mums, she says that finding the balance between work and family life is “constantly challenging.”
“My brother and I started this business because of a passion we had to make a difference to the way people used something every day. It’s always much harder to find a balance when you’re passionate about something and driven.”
She says she has learned to set aside time for work, and set aside time for family.
“You can’t do it half-and-half. The work is always there but when I’m with my kids, it’s about them.”
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KeepCup can be bought online and customised with a choice of colour for the cup, lid, band and plug, and can be branded. See example below: